Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Origin of Mid Vowels in Siwi

How does a language with a relatively small vowel system react to pressure from a language with a larger one?

Most northern Berber varieties have a simple four-vowel system: tense /a/, /i/, /u/, vs. lax schwa (/ə/, written e in the official orthography), the latter being mostly predictable and limited to closed syllables. In the eastern and southern Sahara, however, we tend to find slightly larger vowel systems, and it looks very much as though proto-Berber had a rather asymmetrical six-vowel system, close to modern Tuareg but missing /o/: it had tense /a/, /e/, /i/, /u/ vs. lax /ɐ/, /ə/.

Siwi Berber, in western Egypt, has a more symmetrical six-vowel system: tense /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/ vs. lax /ə/. All of these vowels occur in inherited vocabulary as well as in Arabic loanwords. It is obvious by inspection that, in almost all contexts, *ɐ merged into /ə/. But the distribution of /e/ shows little connection with that of *e: in fact, most instances of proto-Berber *e correspond to Siwi /i/. And the origin of /o/ is not immediately clear at all. How did this happen?

My latest article - written together with Marijn van Putten - proposes some answers. It turns out that proto-Berber */e/ was retained in Siwi only before word-final /n/. Most instances of /e/ and /o/ are found in Arabic loanwords. Within inherited vocabulary, almost all instances of /e/ - and all instances of /o/ - are phonetically conditioned innovations, arising from at least three distinct regular sound changes and one sporadic one. The net effect of this "conspiracy" of sound changes is to extend phonemes otherwise almost entirely restricted to Arabic loans into inherited Berber vocabulary.

If you want the full story, go read our article: The Origin of Mid Vowels in Siwi (published in Studies in African Linguistics 45:1-2 (2016), pp. 189-208).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"Taharrush gamea" and the perils of reasoning from lexicon to culture

The media was strangely slow to report the shameful and horrible events of New Year's Day in Cologne, in which organised groups of drunk youths, most of them born in North Africa, systematically surrounded women coming out of the train station in order to sexually harass them and steal their valuables. Once they finally noticed, however, it took over the headlines for days on end. Scrambling to respond, the police issued a long and bureaucratic report including the following:
So liegen dem Bundeskriminalamt Erkenntnisse dazu vor, dass in arabischen Ländern ein Modus Operandi bekannt ist, der als "taharrush gamea (gemeinsame sexuelle Belästigung in Menschenmengen) bezeichnet wird. Darüber wurde z. B. anlässlich der ägyptischen Revolution von den Medien berichtet.
[It is thus found by the Bundeskriminalamt that in Arab countries there is known a modus operandi called "taharrush gamea" (group sexual harassment in crowds). This was reported on, for example, by the media on the occasion of the Egyptian revolution. (Update: See comments for a more precise translation.)]
The term as quoted there, misspelling and all, now gets over 116,000 hits on Google News. Most of these hits seem to take this somewhere the German police prudently did not go, leaping with shock or glee to the conclusion that, if Arabic has a name for this phenomenon, it must be deeply rooted in the Arab world indeed. Indeed, at least one prominent typologist who shall remain nameless followed in the same direction, blithely asserting that "there is nothing racist about saying that taharrush gamea (the Arabic term for the gang sexual assault of women) is an Arab custom, part of Arab culture". A closer look at the data reveals that this hasty reasoning is not only incorrect, but results in a profound misunderstanding of the problem for which this name was coined.

‍"Taharrush gamea" is a misspelled transcription of an Egyptian pronunciation of the phrase تحرش جماعي taḥarruš jamāʕiyy, literally "group (jamāʕiyy) harassment (taḥarruš)". Until this month, this phrase was no more familiar to me than to any of these reporters, but I had heard of the phenomenon it describes, although only in one country - Egypt. Abdelmonem 2015 and Ebaid 2013 provide some more background on the recent history of sexual harassment in Egypt. Basically, individual harassment has existed forever, there as in other countries, but on Id al-Adha 2006 a new, unprecedented phenomenon appeared: a mob of young men went on a "mass sexual harassment spree" after being turned away from a cinema. This event was captured on video and widely denounced online, but bloggers' denunciations were not enough to prevent it from being repeated in 2008, and then effectively turned into a political tool during the abortive Egyptian revolution after 2011.

This history suggests that the phenomenon, and therefore presumably the name, are less than ten years old. Corpus investigation confirms this: as I could confidently predict even before checking, it gets zero hits on, an extensive library of Arabic heritage texts ranging from the Umayyad period to near-modern times. Google Trends gives a more precise figure: it shows up on Google starting in 2013, only following the Arab Spring! However, the frequency of the term is so low that Google Trends' figures for it can hardly be reliable, and we may suspect that in reality it was coined sometime between 2006 and 2013.

The most obvious question this raises, given that most of the suspects are from Algeria and Morocco, not Egypt, is: were they even familiar with this phenomenon, let alone the term? Unfortunately, by 2015 they could well have been: it may have started in Egypt, but it is no longer an Egyptian monopoly. Horrified reports of it - all postdating the Egyptian revolution - can be found online for Morocco (2014), Jordan (2014), and even Saudi Arabia (2013, 2015). The obvious hypothesis is that the massive media coverage of such crimes following the Egyptian revolution was taken by some good-for-nothings as an inspiration rather than as a warning.

Obviously, any editorial writer who wants to draw conclusions from this term's existence should have started by asking themselves: how old is this name, and how widely known is it? Assuming that it represents some sort of age-old Arab custom suggests one set of conclusions, such the New York Times' superfically anodyne description of the attacks as a "culture clash". Knowing that the term seems to be less than ten years old, and has come into wider use only within the past three years, yields quite another: namely, that "mass harassment" is a new crime (or at least a new variant of an old one), appealing to a certain type of "man", and spread virally by satellite TV coverage and videos shared on social media. In which case, the role currently being played by the media may be somewhat less than constructive.

Monday, July 01, 2013

So how different are Algerian and Egyptian Berber?

In the previous post, we looked at how hard Egyptian Arabic was for an Algerian to understand (answer: not that hard) and how it diverges from the rules of Algerian Arabic (answer: a lot). What if we try the same exercise for Berber – specifically, Kabyle vs. Siwi? Obviously, I don’t speak Kabyle fluently or even well; if you do, feel free to correct me or give me your own impressions. However, with a bit of help from a dictionary, I think it’s worth a try. There aren’t any Siwi stories recorded online at the moment, about Juha or otherwise, but here’s a short fable with a sad ending retranscribed and retranslated from Laoust’s grammar:
Azidi dilla g adrar, itessu aman. Tizmert ttella adday. Azidi yeṃṃ-as: “Itta xeḅḅecṭ-i aman nnew?” Tizmert teṃṃ-as: “Aman dillan g ɛali, iteggezen i gda!” Yeṃṃ-as: “Ɛam-nuwwel nic uṭnaxa, cemm edduqqaṭ ṭaren nnem!” Teṃṃ-as: “Nic n aseggasa!” Yeṃṃ-as: “Namma eṃṃa nnem namma axxa nnem!” Baɛdin yečč-ét.

There was a jackal on a mountain, drinking water. A ewe was below. The jackal said to her: “Why have you muddied my water?” The ewe said: “The water is above, and goes down to here!” He said: “The year before last when I was ill, you stamped your feet (disturbing him with the noise)!” She said: “I’m from (I was born in) this year!” He said “Or (it was) your mother, or your aunt!” Then he ate her.

Only seven words (out of 44) have no cognates in Kabyle as far as I know – in three cases, this is because one language or the other has borrowed an Arabic term:

  • azidi “jackal”: in Kabyle this would be uccen.
  • yeṃṃ-as “he told her”: in Kabyle this would be yenn-as.
  • itta “why”: in Kabyle this would be ayɣer. The Siwi form is from i “to, for” and -tta < tanta “what”, a local variant of widespread Berber matta, which Kabyle has replaced with the Arabic loan acu.
  • ɛali “above”, from Arabic: in Kabyle this would be asawen, but the Siwi form is easy to guess from Arabic.
  • iteggezen “they go down”: in Kabyle this would be trusun.
  • ɛam-nuwwel “year before last”, from Arabic: in Kabyle this would be sell-ilindi, but the Siwi form is easy enough to guess if you know Algerian Arabic.
  • namma “or”: the first syllable is cognate to Kabyle neɣ, but the word has changed enough to make guessing difficult.
  • axxa “aunt (mother’s sister)”: in Kabyle this would be xalti, from Arabic.
So in terms of vocabulary, the situation is pretty similar to what we saw between Algerian and Egyptian Arabic. However, as with the previous example, there are many more subtle differences – and those differences are of a more significant kind. If we look at grammatical differences alone and ignore phonetic or semantic ones, we notice that:
  • g adrar “in the mountain”: in Kabyle this would be g wedrar; Siwi has no “état d’annexion”.
  • dilla, ttella: “he is at, she is at”: Kabyle yella, tella, with no d- prefix. adday “below”: Kabyle does have a noun adda “below”, but it can only be used in combination with certain prepositions, not on its own as here.
  • xebbecṭ-i: Siwi marks the 2nd person singular (“you”) with just -(a)ṭ; Kabyle uses t-...-ḍ.
  • nnew “my”, nnem “your (f.)”: in Kabyle this would be inu, inem.
  • iteggezen: Siwi marks the 3rd person plural (“they”) with y-...-en; Kabyle, like all other Berber languages, uses -en alone.
  • i gda: in Kabyle, i is usually used just for the dative, but in Siwi it’s used for destinations in general; the g- in gda was originally the preposition “in”, but in Siwi it became part of the word for “here”.
  • uṭnaxa “I am/was ill”: the -a suffix is a Siwi verbal form marking the perfect, frequently used in subordinate clauses to mean “while”. Kabyle doesn’t have such an ending, and would just use uḍnaɣ.

This contrasts with what we saw between Algerian and Egyptian Arabic, where very few of the textual differences were strictly grammatical. Of course, a longer text would have revealed more grammatical differences between Algerian and Egyptian, for example in the formation of comparatives – and would reveal many more between Kabyle and Siwi. This makes sense; for many centuries, Siwi has been much more isolated from Kabyle than Algerian Arabic has been from Egyptian Arabic, and the expansion of Berber happened earlier than that of Arabic, so they’ve had longer to develop separately.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ethnologue update comments

Ethnologue recently announced an update. Since, at least online, they are the easiest to find and hence most commonly cited authority on worldwide language distribution, this merits some comment. They've made some improvements in North Africa, including a much prettier map. However, there still remain a fair number of errors. This is perhaps natural given that SIL, which produces Ethnologue, is basically a Christian missionary organisation and as such is unwelcome in a number of countries. (Why is there no neutral source doing something comparable, one might ask? UNESCO has attempted a language endangerment atlas, but sadly that one is both less complete and far less reliable.) However, quite a few errors could have been avoided simply by closer attention to sources.

In Algeria, they've updated the Korandjé entry with my population estimate and endangerment classification, and corrected the Tashelhiyt one based on my thesis - although they apparently couldn't be bothered to cite the source of this estimate! They've reclassified the Berber dialects of the Southwest (Boussemghoun, Igli, etc.) as Taznatit, along with the Berber of Timimoun; in previous editions, the former were classed as part of Moroccan Tashelhiyt. The new classification is rather more tenable than the old one, at any rate; the former dialects are not called "Taznatit" by their speakers, but they are rather closely related to it, and are not at all closely related to Moroccan Tashelhiyt.

There are still a fair number of errors, though: the Tarifit of Arzew became extinct a century ago (and there is no such place as "Alteria"); "Tamazight de l’Atlas blidéen" is rather more like Kabyle than like Chenoua, and is missing from their map; the boundaries they give for Kabyle are rather inflated, annexing the Arabic-speaking areas of the Boumerdes coast to the west and half of Jijel in the east; the enormous circle they draw for Teggargarent contrasts oddly with the tiny ones they draw for Korandjé and Temacine Tamazight, which in reality occupy comparable areas (perhaps this was to take into account Ngouça, but the latter oasis is even smaller than Ouargla); Hassaniyya Arabic is still missing even though it's the primary language of Tindouf; and the curiously precise boundaries they give for "Saharan Arabic" leave me baffled as to what this "language" is supposed to be. The "Algerian Arabic" dialect of Jijel or Skikda is far more different from the Algiers koine than the "Algerian Saharan Arabic" I heard in Bechar or Timimoun or Abadla; perhaps the dialect further east is more different, but the boundaries shown are indefensible. They also seem to have misunderstood the constitutional amendment: it's Tamazight in general that is legally a national language now, although it's admittedly Kabyle that benefits the most in practice.

In Morocco, they've belatedly figured out that Ghomara and Senhaja are still spoken - for the past several editions they've been labelled extinct - but according to the entry French has no presence in the Moroccan linguistic landscape, unlike Algeria or Tunisia. For Egypt, their map ignores Gara (the other oasis where Siwi is spoken), and their population figures for Siwi are extremely optimistic. For Libya, their map (unlike their text) ignores Zuwara, while grossly inflating Ghadames and Sokna (especially in contrast to Siwi, which actually occupies a much larger oasis). For Mauritania, they still include the apocryphal Imraguen "language", whose reported existence Catherine Taine-Cheikh deconstructs in a forthcoming article, and their population figures of Zenaga are mutually inconsistent bad guesses which should have been updated based on the introduction to the latter's Dictionnaire zénaga-français.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Berber in Libya and Egypt

I am glad to announce a new collaborative blog, in which I will be participating along with Marijn van Putten, Adam Benkato, and possibly others: Oriental Berber, on the Berber languages of Libya and Egypt. Not much there yet, but keep an eye out... The subject seems timely, with Berber having started to be used in Libyan media.

In other news, my Dardja etymology blog now features posts on the origins of zṛudiyya / sfənnariyya / xizzu (carrot), čina (orange), njəm (a kind of grass), jṛana (frog), and ʕətrus (billy-goat.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Siwi and Nafusi, mutually comprehensible

The Libyan conflict which currently appears to be winding down has had some interesting side effects. One of the more linguistically interesting ones is the emergence of something completely taboo to Qaddafi: broadcasts in Libyan Berber - specifically, in the language of the Nafusa Mountains near the Tunisian border, whose people have played an important role in taking Tripoli. For a long time Berber languages have been mainly oral - visible or essential in particular regions scattered across North Africa, but not used in the national stage defined by major cities, schooling, and the mass media (apart from radio.) Since the 1990s this has changed somewhat in Algeria and Morocco, but in Libya this remains a very novel step.

For Siwis, the Berber-speaking people of Siwa in western Egypt, this is of some interest. They have occasionally been tuning into Moroccan or Algerian Berber-language satellite broadcasting ever since it started, without understanding more than occasional words here and there. But they tell me that in the Libyan broadcasts they can understand practically everything - the first time they've seen TV broadcasts in something approximating their own language, and the first time most of them have heard Libyan Berber at all.

I'm not surprised that Moroccan and Algerian Berber should be incomprehensible to Siwis - but I do find it remarkable that Libyan (Nafusi) Berber, spoken more than a a thousand kilometres away from Siwa, should be so easy for them to understand. It further confirms a longstanding observation that I've tried to back up recently by identifying shared innovations: that Siwi seems most like the Berber languages of western Libya, not of eastern Libya (where Berber is still barely spoken at the oasis of Awjila), contrary to what common sense and geography would initially suggest.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More on Nile Valley Berber [?]

I finally got around to borrowing Bechhaus-Gerst's Sprachwandel durch Sprachkontakt am Beispiel des Nubischen in Niltal. It's tough going because I don't really speak German, but she briefly suggests (p. 37) that the C-Group Culture of 2200 BC-1500 BC in lower Nubia, known as Temehu to the Egyptians, were Berbers (referencing Behrens 1984/5), and that Nobiin-speaking Nubians came in about 1500 BC and replaced them. This would explain the possible Berber loanwords in Nobiin, notably aman "water". Apparently, the archeology shows a change of cultures and of body types around 1500 BC, and ancient Egyptian paintings first begin depicting their southern neighbours as black around this period, while the Egyptian loanwords in Nobiin seem to date to the New Kingdom or later.

The identification of the Temehu with the Berbers is not based on linguistic evidence, as far as I know, and the small inventory of possible Berber loans in Nubian is neither conclusively established nor necessarily dates from as early as 1500 BC. So I don't know how much confidence to put in this scenario. However, it points to an interesting avenue for studies of Berber to explore. A lot of evidence suggests that Afroasiatic originated further east than North Africa, so it would make sense for there to have been Berber speakers in the Nile Valley - that could even be where Berber spread from in the first place. I previously discussed this issue in The Berbers of Southern Egypt.

The book is interesting for other reasons, incidentally - if her scenario for the development of Kenzi/Dongolawi is correct, it has borrowed an astonishing amount of grammatical material from Nobiin.

Behrens, P. 1984/5. "Wanderungsbewegungen und Sprache der frühen saharanischen Viehzüchter", SUGIA 6:135-216.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eastern Berber vocabularies on Google Books

Some digitised Eastern Berber vocabularies from the first half of the 18th 19th century for your perusal, if you're into that sort of thing. I was particularly impressed to find a Sokna vocabulary - I haven't yet read any other source on that language, though admittedly I haven't looked that hard.

* Lyon's vocabulary of the Berber of Sokna, from 1820
* Hornemann's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1798 (at my homepage)
* Caillaud's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1826
* Minutoli's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1827
* Koenig's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1839 (lots of other vocabularies in here - Somali, for example, and Nubian and even Fur)

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Berbers of southern Egypt

Checking through the 11th-century geographer al-Bakri for information on the linguistic history of Siwa, I was not surprised to see that he says the Siwans were Berber, and not very surprised to see that the people of Bahariya at the time were Arabs and Copts, and those of Farafra Copts alone. I was a bit more surprised, though, when a little further down the page he says that some of the people of Dakhla and Kharja, in southern Egypt (map), were Lawāta Berbers:

وهذا واح الداخلة كثير الأنهار والعمارات... ومن هذا الواح إلى الواحين الخارجين ثلاث مراحل وهو آخر بلاد الإسلام... وفي بغض الواحات قبائل من لواتة

It kind of fits with an observation made by several Nubian specialists (I read it in an article by Bechhaus-Gerst) that Nubian - specifically Nobiin, in fact, not the Nubian languages of Kordofan or Darfur - seems to contain Berber loanwords; the easiest to remember, and most convincing, of these is "water", aman (which in other Nubian languages is something completely different, along the lines of essi.) If a dictionary of the Arabic dialects of these oases ever comes out, it would be very interesting to check it for Berber loanwords.

On a more romantic note, al-Bakri also warns those travelling into the desolate lands west of these oases that they will find "great sands... full of palm trees and springs, with no civilisation nor companions, where the murmuring of the jinn is heard unceasingly."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

African influence on native Nicaraguan languages!

...and I bet that got your attention, if you're the sort of person who reads this blog.

Ulwa is a language native to the eastern highlands of central Nicaragua, and now spoken mainly in Karawala on the Atlantic coast. It belongs to the small Misumalpan language family, along with Miskito; an interesting characteristic of this family is the position of nominal possessive affixes, which may be suffixed or infixed depending on the word's syllable structure. The Miskito kingdom had a longstanding relationship with the British, as a result of which English Creole is widely spoken on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast; both Miskito and English have influenced Ulwa, as has Spanish of course. You can find a nice dictionary and a brief grammar at the Ulwa Language Home Page.

Anyway, the Ulwa word for "east" turns out to be mâsara. I'm sure some readers will already be thinking of Maghrebi Arabic/Berber mâṣəṛ (from Arabic مِصْر), with reflexes in a variety of West African languages along the lines of masara - meaning Egypt! Unfortunately, a second glance reveals that "west" is mâ âwai, suggesting that maybe mâsara is some kind of compound with . , sure enough, turns out to mean "sun", while sara means "origin". So much for that idea; but what a good example of how a coincidental lookalike can emerge. I can't find any similar way to explain the word for "God", though - which is Alah...

So what about that African loanword I promised? There really is at least one, but it is somewhat less exciting. "Peanut", in Ulwa, is pinda. This word, referring to a post by Polyglot Vegetarian, appears to derive from Kikongo m-pinda, and was borrowed into English as pindar (various spellings) before being ousted by peanut. So this word may have been mediated by English, but is of clear Kikongo origin - sensibly enough, given that peanuts themselves come from Africa. If you want more African loanwords into Caribbean Native American languages, try Garifuna - where the word for "man" is a Bantu loanword.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Update from Siwa

Hi everybody! I'm in Siwa, and things are going well. The oasis is so much bigger and more prosperous than Tabelbala it seems almost decadent by comparison; its lakes and its expanses of groves suggest some idea of what Tabelbala's environment might have been like at its peak. The language is in no immediate danger; while some words are disappearing due to the great change in lifestyle, not only do children all seem to speak Siwi as a first language, but a substantial portion of the Shihaybat Bedouin settled in the western edge of Siwa learn it as a second one. However, the declining popularity of music at weddings may to some degree be threatening the vigorous local tradition of Siwi-language poetry. As Vycichl noted, Siwi has grammatically conditioned stress; in fact, you could argue that case is marked in Siwi by stress shifts. Siwi is definitely not mutually comprehensible with Kabyle, by the way - I've now tested this in both directions - nor with any Moroccan variety, according to local watchers of Moroccan satellite channels. Gara is also an interesting place - a much poorer, smaller oasis a hundred-odd km off, inhabited by mainly black people speaking Siwi. I've been there, but unfortunately security regulations more or less preclude spending the night.

The Bedouin Arabic of western Egypt is also of some interest. It is remarkably conservative, though not as much so as the dialects of Najd - it has a fully productive dual, distinguishes masculine and feminine plurals (both for verbal and adjectival agreement), and still has most short vowels. Technically, it shares some of the defining innovations of Maghrebi Arabic, in particular the 1st person plural n-...-uu; but it sounds scarcely closer to Algerian than even Cairene Arabic. They write a lot of poetry, some of it rather good. Inconveniently but interestingly, it appears that most Arabic influence on Siwi derives neither from their dialect nor from Cairene.

On a final note, anyone interested in medieval Berber history (there must be someone...) will recall the rather large Huwwara tribe (from which Houari Boumedienne ultimately got his nom de guerre). It turns out they're still very much around in the western Delta and even Upper Egypt, although they all speak Arabic now, as they had already begun to do in Ibn Khaldun's time; I met a Huwwari just the other day.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Semitic snake spells pop up in Pyramids

Prof. Richard Steiner claims to have deciphered a previously incomprehensible section of an ancient Egyptian inscription as a spell against snakes written in a Semitic language. Dating from 2400 BC, this spell, engraved on the pyramid of King Unas, would be the oldest attested West Semitic inscriptions (apparently in the dialect of Byblos), and nearly as old as the oldest Akkadian inscriptions. The idea of Semitic speakers being seen in ancient Egypt as specialists in snake magic is strangely reminiscent of the story of Moses.

Unfortunately, the talk in which he announced this is only available in Hebrew ("Proto-Semitic Spells in the Pyramid Texts") - he is apparently writing up a publishable work on the subject in English - but the link contains the texts themselves (p. 7) and their transcriptions (pp. 3-4) - the bold bits are those claimed to be Semitic, while the rest is regular Egyptian. He also has up a response in English to criticisms of his claim, which apparently were not long in coming. My Hebrew is not nearly good enough to understand most of the translations he gives, but here's a couple of bits I think I got:

236: ''kbbh iti itii bitii'' = Chant: Come, come, to my house!
281: ''mmin inw 333 twb ś if w-inw hnw'' = Who am I? Rir-Rir - sweet of smell in my nose - I am they. (there just has to be a translation error in this one - probably made by me)

From these, you can see a number of recognisable Semitic words - ''iti'' for "come" (Arabic أتى 'atā, Syriac 'atā), ''bit'' for "house" (Arabic بيت bayt, Hebrew bayit, Syriac bayt-ā), ''mmin'' for "who?" (Arabic من man, Hebrew mîn, Syriac man), ''twb'' for "good" (Arabic طيب ṭayyib, Hebrew ṭôb, Syriac ṭāb)... Specifically Canaanite features, if any, are less conspicuous; the assimilation of Proto-Semitic ''n'' to a following consonant presumably found in ''if'' "nose" (Arabic أنف 'anf, Hebrew 'āp) is found in Canaanite, but also in Akkadian.